Portage County receives environmental health tracking grant
For the Gazette
Groundwater Study underway within the Village of Nelsonville
PORTAGE COUNTY – Portage County was awarded $9772.00 from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to improve environmental public health in Portage County by improving private well water testing within rural communities of Portage County.
“Nearly two out of every three people in our county get their water from private wells,” said Gary Garske, Portage County Health Officer. “Wells must be tested to ensure water is safe to drink and through this project, residents of the Village of Nelsonville will be able to test their wells for free.”
The project is a collaboration between the Division of Public Health at Portage County Health and Human Services and the Portage County Planning and Zoning Department. The Village of Nelsonville is an area that is facing potential water quality concerns, similar to those seen across Portage County. This is a confined area with a high density of residential wells that is lacking current water quality data.
“This project will allow us to establish a current baseline of water quality data that will help the Village to make decisions regarding water quality in the future”, said Jen McNelly, Portage County Water Resource Specialist.
All of the information collected will provide village residents with a better understanding of the safety of their water supply and will increase knowledge of local groundwater resources and land management practices that may influence drinking water quality.
Residents in the Village recently expressed concern with the quality of their drinking water quality, especially with nitrate-nitrogen concentrations. Private well testing data gaps currently exist. The Wisconsin Well Water Viewer showed that there have only ever been 70 water samples submitted from within the Village and those samples only represent 41 private wells (only 13 wells have been tested in the last 10 years). In addition, of the 70 samples that have ever been submitted, 40% percent of the samples exceed the drinking water standard for nitrate-nitrogen.
However, the Well Water Viewer shows that on average 20% of private wells in Portage County exceed the drinking water standard for nitrate-nitrogen. Nelsonville residents are currently not able to make informed decisions regarding practices that impact drinking water quality, nor are able to make decisions on how to best protect it.
“Through education and the free well water tests, we are removing barriers that prevent residents from testing their wells,” said McNelly.
The project in Portage County is one of eight environmental public health projects being funded throughout the state through the Taking Action with Data funding opportunity from the Wisconsin Environmental Public Health Tracking Program, which is housed at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
The first round of testing occurred during October and November. Private well owners in Nelsonville received information from Portage County staff on groundwater impacts, the importance of annual testing, and how to correctly take a sample. Samples were collected by Portage County staff and analyzed by the Water and Environmental Analysis Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point.
The first round of sampling included 60 wells which had a nitrate average of 9.3 mg/L. According to the Wisconsin Environmental Public Health Tracking – 2017 Portage County Environmental Health Profile, complied by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Portage County averaged 4.9 mg/L for nitrate-nitrogen; while the state of Wisconsin averaged 1.5 mg/L. The state and federal drinking water standard for nitrate-nitrogen is 10 mg/L. Of those wells tested 47% exceeded the drinking water standard. This initial round of testing is important to better understand water quality across the entire Village.
A second round of testing is planned for the early part of January of 2019. The second round of testing will focus on identifying possible sources nitrates in ground water with the village through nitrate source testing. This information will help the Village to better understand the potential contributing factors of nitrate-nitrogen to their drinking water.
If you would like more information on the Wisconsin EPHT -2017 Portage County Environmental Health Profile visit: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/publications/p0/p00719-portage.pdf.